I won’t review manga or anime very often because 98% of them aren’t worth mentioning. Most are engineered for fan service, unrealistic romance, and gory action and it is rare to find one that steps beyond stereotype and popular demand. This manga, written by Kyoko Hikawa, is one of those few diamonds lost in the shuffle. What makes this story different then others? It is simple; its execution and profundity.
This series is only fourteen volumes long, and uses a classic fantasy plot model. It begins with our heroine Noriko, an ordinary school girl who lives in Japan, walking with her friends and living a simple, quiet life. By an act of providence she is transported by a bomb explosion to a distant fantasy world where she meets the second protagonist, a handsome, traveling warrior named Izark Kia Tarj, and is thrown into the battle between the forces of good and evil. It is obvious that eventually Noriko and Izark will fall in love and they will save the world, but it is compelling how Hikawa’s story unfolded.
It’s delicate mastery still fascinates me. In my opinion the main premise is not saving the world or falling in love. Rather, it is about knowing people have the power to decide their own fate and that love, true love is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, forces in this world and the next. As the seer Zena stated in the story “I decided that the future I see is just a place. A place we can go to. But we can all decide what to think and do when we get to that place. Depending on our choices you can make your own fate.” (Volume 6)
So many other authors have tried to use this story arc but failed because they are unable to capture the emotional realism (or truth to feeling) required to make it work. These sort of stories depict a journey that brings needed growth through change and/or trials. Such growth needs to delve deep into the human psyche. Unlike the Heroes Journey that I talked about in my review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it is very rare for the protagonist to return home. Why? Because they find that where they are needed the most is not in the familiar or comforting life they are satisfied with. In fact they usually are forced from their homes against their will. These changes can either break a person or lead them to do incredible things. This requires letting go of their easier life and accepting those abrupt, painful changes.
The romance between Noriko and Izark is also quite different than I am used to. Halfway through the story, they realized their love for one another and accepted each other, despite their imperfections and fates. Usually when this occurs, they eventually break all the social barriers between them and start a sexual relationship. This doesn’t happen in this story, even though they travel alone together and sleep close to each other on a daily basis. Did this take away from their relationship? Quite the contrary. The respect that they had for one another made their love stronger. It has been a long time since I have read a story that still encourages a respectful distance between men and women, especially outside of marriage. I find it curious that in order for a relationship to be considered “complete” in modern literature and entertainment the main characters need to have sex. I agree with this to a point, however I still believe, though many would call me old-fashioned, that there is a time and place for something so beautiful and sacred.
This is one of the most endearing, beautiful love stories I have ever read, because of how much they sacrificed for one another. From the time they both acknowledged their feelings their relationship grew into a partnership, with both of them supporting the other in any way they could. Yes, they needed each other, but when they met each other both knew how to live with their difficult circumstances, even Izark who had been almost killed by his mother, rejected, and called a monster all his life. What made it different was their focus was solely on each other, rather than on themselves.
I have a tender spot for stories that portray the strength of the human will in the face of adversity. I was equally satisfied with the characters Noriko and Izark for that reason. Noriko was forced into a world where she knew no one, couldn’t understand the language, and was fated to awaken a monstrous entity The Sky Demon. I waited for her to fall apart or become a clingy, whiny heroine but it never happened. She rose to meet her circumstances and consequently became a powerful force for good. As I watched her, I admired her tender heart and strength. She reminded me somewhat of Tohru from Natsuki Takaya’s manga series Fruits Basket (1998-2006) because her power lay not in anything magical or physical but rather in the kindness of her actions and her purity of heart. Though she was independent and worked alongside Izark, she wasn’t forced to put off her femininity to become a warrior or powerful sorceress. She was simply herself and her love turned out to be more powerful than all the forces of evil.
Izark intrigued me from the very beginning of the story. At first I feared that he would be like many other dark and moody characters with a horrible past who can only be saved through the power of love. After reading through several chapters however it became apparent that this was not the case. The difference lay not in his physical strength but in his heart. Though he had been through so many hard times, he had endured them and been strengthened even if he didn’t recognize it himself. He was independent, self reliant and most of all motivated by a desire to do good. To put it simply, he was a genuinely goodhearted, gentle man. There is nothing, when it comes to romance and men, so wonderful, so inspiring and so captivating as a righteous, virtuous man who strives to better himself and follow moral standards.
The most satisfying part of the story for me was when Izark realized who he truly was and the power of his choices. In his prelude to The Bhagavad Gita, the translator Eknath Easwaran talked about how the great Mahabharata epic was merely “the perennial war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness in every human heart. . . (an internal dialogue) between the ordinary human personality full of questions about the meaning of life, and our deepest Self which is divine”. This is also a reflection of the battle in Izark’s and other’s hearts in this story. Izark stated, while under the power of Rachef and his followers, “I’ve always tried to run away from my true self and away from my destiny. But no matter how hard I’ve denied it I am what I am. Why? I’ve hated and feared myself but I’ve also had love for my friends and the beauty of nature. Then I met Noriko and she healed my lonely soul. Why do I feel like this? Where do these feelings come from? Why does a monster have feelings at all? Something is wrong. I am not the sky demon. I am what I am“. (Volume 9) This is a powerful discovery. It establishes that at the very core of every human being is a divine self, separated from this world yet intricately connected to it. We aren’t our choices. We aren’t our weaknesses. We are who we choose to become by either giving in to adversity or rising up to meet it head on. As Izark said, “I’ve realized the sky demon is a part of me but not the deepest part. . . When I finally surrendered to my fate at that ruin I saw something deep inside me. As soon as I saw it, I felt incredible power emanating from within me”.
The art looks a lot like other popular manga titles from the 80’s and 90’s like Sailor Moon and Ranma 1/2 , however, I like it the most out of all that I have read, except perhaps Rurouni Kenshin (which it is tied with). It has an ebb and flow to it that at one point is enchantingly beautiful then at the next simple and fun loving. Nothing is too extravagant or flamboyant and it has such grace, especially on the covers and the chapter headings. Most importantly, it is consistent and doesn’t dramatically change like Fruits Basket.
If I haven’t made it clear, this is one of my favorite stories. There are times where I become so overwhelmed with all the mediocre and horrible movies and books there are and I miraculously find hidden treasures such as this. I recommend it wholeheartedly. However, it is a manga. Don’t let this dissuade you. Yes, most manga and anime are horrible. If I denied that I would be deluding myself. However, there are some great ones like From Far Away that are the exceptions. I live for the exceptions and love them for their creativity and artistry.
FAVORITE QUOTE (One of them…. there are many.) :
Izark: “Don’t go! Don’t leave me! I’m not just being nice! I love you. I mean it. It’s true that because of you I am closer than ever to becoming the sky demon. But remember what Zena said? She said the future is not predetermined. She said we make our own futures. I can change my future even if I don’t know how yet. I just want to protect you. If anything horrible happened to you I couldn’t stand it. I’d rather become a monster than lose you. So stay with my Noriko. Please stay with me.”
[Noriko embraces him]” Of course I will stay with you. No matter what happens to us. I’ll never leave you.”
[Izark collapses onto his knees and weeps]